Big pests and small

Our educational center adjoins heavily forested area where many deer live. The gardens are a tempting dessert to the brush and grass they usually make a meal of. Last year, the deer were in the garden beds as soon as we were – leaving their little hoof prints all over the freshly tilled earth the night after it was tilled. One of our first big construction chores was to build a deer fence.


first deer fence project – September 2014

Later, when deer found a way under it, we filled in some gaps and installed sturdier gates.

gates 4.15 - rob and daniel

deer fencing amendments – spring 2015

Now, with an additional, and much larger, garden area, we are building a new deer fence – attached above the original chain link one. Things were going great until we got to the area adjoining the woods and realized what a tick infestation looks like. Work was halted immediately, and we just hoped the deer would not realize how easy it would be to jump over the current fence. After a recent cold snap, we wondered if the ticks might have become dormant, but who wanted to find out?

Last week, our friends at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, came through again, when Entomologist Jeff visited our site. He gave a presentation to the students where they could view different types of (dead) ticks close up.

tick observation

tick in a bottle

Jeff explained how ticks ambush people and animals by standing on their back legs on plants and waving their arms, waiting to sink their little clawed hands into someone’s loose clothing – and why it is so hard to pull a tick off once it has embedded itself (little hooks on its mouth too).

tick jeff

Explaining how ticks grab onto passersby.

Then Jeff did a “trick drag” through the previously most infested areas. No ticks!

tick drag

tick drag

The cold has knocked them back temporarily, and our students are working quickly to get the fence up before they inevitably wake up again in the spring.

tick fence

fence builders at it again




Summertime + Summer School = Seed Saving

We will have summer school through the month of June, and then we are DONE (well done) till classes begin again in the Fall. This week, students headed straight to the Grow Zone – aka field plot – to harvest crops before the heat settled in. It’s been close too 100 degrees several times during the last week.

The beautiful Moon and Stars watermelons are the reward for the hard work in the garden. This variety was thought to be extinct, but a Missouri farmer had saved the seeds – and we got some (thank you Forage!). The students carefully saved the seeds of these, too – for next year’s crop.

No, Daniel is not a gnome. These squash (next to the moon and stars watermelon) are HUGE - grown out for their seeds.

No, Daniel is not a gnome. These squash (next to the moon and stars watermelon) are HUGE – grown out for their seeds.

They are also saving the seeds from two other American heirlooms:  the red-striped greasy bean, a nutrient-packed  “soup bean” from Appalachia and the Hopi Red Dye amaranth from Arizona, a grain that has been cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years.

Growing these plants and saving the seeds, the students are learning about the cultures where they originated and the relationship between horticulture and human culture. They are part of the chain.

And we get to eat watermelon.

Deer B-Gone

gates 4.15 - rob and daniel

The field plot is surrounded by acres of woodland and is a beautiful place for our students to get out in nature and get some exercise (including the 1/4 mile walk to the garden).  The downside of all this natural splendor is wildlife, and their appetite for fresh veggies. The first thing done to the field plot after tilling was to add deer fencing. It’s an ingenuious system, strung like a shower curtain on wires between poles. Last weekend, gates were installed to provide easier access for people.

In the photo above you can see the trailing vines of the “moon and stars watermelon” we are hoping will fruit by the end of the month, as well as the bolted lettuce from which the students are gathering seeds with the expert help of the Southern Heritage Seed Collective of Forage Farm.  Also growing is a host of spring plants – tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, peppers, roselle, okra, sweet potatoes… and even some cotton. The deer are out of the running, but the race is on between the students and the insects.

end of april 2015


ptoato duo 4.21.15

Students “dug for treasure” today and came up with red potatoes of all sizes. Their assistants were as surprised and pleased as they were.

potatoes 4.21.15

So many people experience potatoes mainly as a side of fries.  Experiencing the wonder of burying a piece of potato in a mound of soil, waiting and watering (and battling army worms) for a few months, and then discovering it’s multiplied by ten-fold is something that every child deserves to do.

potatoes in a bucket 4.21.2015

We have (at least) 31 school gardens in Alachua County ten of which deliver produce to their lunchrooms. Our students at the Farm to School to Work Hub grow the transplants and package some of the seeds for these gardens – sharing the bounty of their own wealth of knowledge and skills with younger garden treasure-hunters.

Harvesting seeds

Melissa shows students how to gently harvest pea pods from the vines.

Melissa shows students how to gently harvest pea pods from the vines.

It’s that time in the garden when cool-weather plants are about to give up the ghost and are producing seeds. Some we  eat, and some we save. This week students harvested snow peas for eating – a lovely yellow variety that was both prolific and easy to spot on the green vines.

Learning to spot a seed and separate it from the flower.

Learning to spot a seed and separate it from the flower.

They also harvested calendula seeds from the dying flowers. Some of these will be planted in school gardens next fall. The cycle of life.

Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Growing the Farm to School to Work Hub

Heading back to the classroom

Ground was broken (literally!) last week at the Farm to School to Work Hub at Loften High School. G.E.T. (Growing Education Training) students sowed a cover crop and constructed a deer fence around a recently plowed area. This space will soon be producing seed chosen and saved to grow plants ideally suited for Alachua County gardens – and school kitchens.